Mailbag: Friedman, Otani, Johnson, Markakis

Big mailbag this week. Ten questions with nine answers. As always, use the Submit A Tip box in the sidebar to send us anything throughout the week.

(Presswire)
(Presswire)

Dustin asks: With Andrew Friedman leaving the Rays, do you think there was ever a chance for the Yankees to have nabbed him? I am not a fan of getting rid of Brian Cashman just for the sake of getting someone new, but Friedman was an upgrade. Was he unwilling to leave the Rays for a division rival, or did this come out of nowhere and the Yankees never had a chance to try and get him?

No idea whatsoever. For all we know the Yankees could have tried to lure him away before re-signing Cashman but failed. The Rays did have to give the Dodgers permission to talk to Friedman and maybe they were unwilling to grant that same permission to a division rival. Maybe we’ll get answer one day but probably not. There’s lots of stuff that goes on behind the scenes that we never hear about.

I am looking forward to seeing how Friedman does with the Dodgers. He’s playing a totally different ballgame now. It’s one thing to put together a team with a small payroll and no expectations. It’s another to have the largest payroll in baseball with expectations of winning the World Series in 2015. Not in two or three years, but next year. Friedman will have a $220M-ish payroll at his disposal but approximately $170M of that is already tied up through 2017. Seriously, they have ten players under contract for $170M  in 2017. Plus the Dodgers farm system has been way more productive than Tampa’s lately. We’ll see. I’m guessing Friedman looks a bit less like a genius in a year or two.

Tater asks: So Kansas City and St. Louis are one step away from the world series. Both teams are at the very bottom of their respective leagues in regard to home runs. Can we maybe start to lose the infatuation with and perceived need for Cashman’s “big, hairy monsters?” Also is this a sign of the times in the post-PED league or should it just filed under “baseball is weird sometimes?”

I wouldn’t take anything we see in the postseason as an indication of how teams should and shouldn’t be built. The Royals beat the Angels in the ALDS and to a lesser extent the Orioles in the ALCS because they out-homered them. How many go-ahead late-inning homers have the Cardinals hit this postseason, both against the Dodgers and Giants? A lot. The Red Sox were a top five homer-hitting team last year when they won the World Series.

The only surefire way to contend is to be good at everything, but that’s not really possible. Every team is going to have a weakness (except for the 1998 Yankees, of course). The Royals and Cardinals both play under very different conditions than the Yankees. The Royals play in a big park in a weak division, and they still only barely snuck into the postseason as a wildcard team. The Cardinals are in a big park in the NL. The Yankees play in a tiny park in a division with three other tiny parks. They have to hit homers because their opponents and division rivals are going to hit them. If they were the Giants in AT&T Park and the NL West, then power wouldn’t be as much of a concern.

John asks: When can we expect to see Shohei Otani with a MLB team? The guy turned 20 in July, has struck out 176 in 153.1 innings so far this year and topped 101 mph with his fastball, beating the record for the fastest pitch thrown by a Japanese pitcher. He also hit .274/.338/.505 in 234 plate appearances with 10 home runs and played in the outfield. Here are the homers and here is his B-Ref page.

Otani, 20, is likely to be the next ace pitcher to come out of Japan a la Yu Darvish and Masahiro Tanaka. He hit 101 mph (~162 kmph) earlier this year as you said, tying Marc Krauss’ NPB record and setting a new record for a Japanese-born pitcher. Ben Badler provided a scouting report off one of his starts back in June:

Otani’s fastball was overpowering, sitting at 94-98 mph and hitting the upper end of that range consistently … Otani, who’s 6-foot-4, 190 pounds, overmatched hitters with his fastball, though his 84-88 mph splitter was a solid pitch at times. He also throws a 78-81 mph slider and a curveball that he manipulates speeds on, ranging anywhere from the mid-60s to the mid-70s.

Otani flirted with signing with an MLB club out of high school* but opted to sign with the Nippon Ham Fighters as their first round pick instead. He’s good outfielder with some power but his future is clearly on the mound at the moment. Otani won’t be eligible for international free agency for another eight years and the Ham Fighters (it’s actually just the Fighters, but c’mon) probably won’t post him for another four or five years. A lot can happen between now and then obviously, but definitely keep him in mind.

* Junichi Tazawa signed with the Red Sox out of high school and that didn’t go over well. MLB and NPB had an unwritten agreement in place saying they wouldn’t sign each other’s amateurs.

Dan asks: I feel like the Yankees have to trade Brett Gardner this offseason. He’s redundant in the lineup (they don’t need two LH leadoff hitters), moveable, and valuable. A true CF who can lead off would be desired by a lot of teams. For instance, he’d be a great fit with the Tigers, maybe the Yankees could get a package back that’s built around Nick Castellanos (who is a righty and can play 3rd and LF).

C. Roy asks: Would a swap of Brett Gardner and Rick Porcello make sense for both teams? I think they’d have to sign Porcello long term right away but he is so young and entering his prime.

I do think the Yankees should explore trading Gardner to improve the team elsewhere this winter. They don’t need two leadoff hitting center fielders, especially when both are signed into their mid-30s at market rate money. I really like Porcello and think he’s close to breaking out as a top of the rotation guy, but I wouldn’t trade four years of Gardner for one year of him. I said the same thing in last week’s mailbag when someone asked about trading him for one of the Reds’ soon to be free agent pitchers.

Castellanos would be interesting because he’s young and a former top prospect who fills a position of need, but you’d have to be really confident in him to pull the trigger on that trade. Castellanos hit only .259/.306/.394 (94 wRC+) with eleven homers and brutal defensive numbers (-18.4 UZR, -30 DRS, -28 total zone) this season, which is why both FanGraphs (-0.5 WAR) and Baseball Reference (-1.5 WAR) had him at below replacement level. But still, 22-year-old kid playing in his first full season, growing pains had to be expected. I would prefer to trade Gardner for someone a little less risky, but that trade may not be out there.

P.J. asks: Would signing Josh Johnson to a minor league deal this winter be worth it for the Yankees considering all his health and performance issues? Assuming the Padres don’t pick up his $4MM option.

(Presswire)
(Presswire)

Johnson had a weird clause in his contract. The Padres gave him a one-year deal worth $8M last season, but if he made fewer than seven starts, the team got a $4M club option for 2015. Johnson blew out his elbow in Spring Training and missed the season following his second Tommy John surgery. I can’t remember another time a team had an option written into a contact that depended on the player getting hurt, not staying healthy.

I would sign almost any player to a minor league contract and that includes Johnson. It’s been two years since he was actually good — 3.81 ERA and 3.40 FIP with the 2012 Marlins and 6.20 ERA and 4.62 FIP with the 2013 Blue Jays — and the second Tommy John surgery is much riskier than the first, but he is only 30 and he’s always missed bats (9.18 K/9 and 21.6 K% in 2013). Plus Joe Girardi knows him from his year managing the Marlins. Minor league deal, let him rehab on his own schedule, maybe get him back for the second half? Sure, why not? Minor league contracts are zero risk.

Dan asks: Do you think the Yankees are going to make an effort to get under the luxury tax number three years from now (after the current CBA expires, and that number is raised). At that time A-Rod, CC, Tex, and Beltran will all be off the books. The farm system (which took a step forward), will also have 3 years to further develop. To that end, I don’t expect them to give any contracts more than 3-4 years this off season, so the payroll will dramatically drop in 3 years. What do you think?

I do think that’s what will happen. Hal Steinbrenner confirmed the team will try to get under the luxury tax threshold at some point in the future during a recent radio interview and after the 2016 season makes sense. The luxury tax threshold will be $189M in both 2015 and 2016, then it will presumably go up once the current Collective Bargaining Agreement expires. It has to go up, right? Team payrolls continue to climb and I don’t think the union will be happy with keeping the threshold where it is. Mark Teixeira, Carlos Beltran, Martin Prado are coming off the books after 2016 and possibly CC Sabathia as well, depending on his vesting option. If the Yankees can’t get under the luxury tax threshold after 2016, then I think for sure they would try after 2017, when Alex Rodriguez and Sabathia will definitely be off the books.

Mickey asks: Is there a chance, in your opinion, that Prado is the starting shortstop next year? They could sign Chase Headley to man third, Rob Refsnyder could win the second base job in the spring (maybe they bring in a non-roster invitee to make it a competition), A-Rod can back up Teix at first and Brendan Ryan and Jose Pirela could play all over the infield. Now that J.J. Hardy is off the board, everyone else seems like an overpay or just not very good.

That would surprise me. I think they would play Ryan at short everyday before Prado and I don’t think anyone wants to see Ryan play everyday. Prado has played short in the past but very sparingly: 15 innings in 2008, 92.1 innings in 2012, and one inning in 2013. That’s all. Seems like he’s an emergency guy at shortstop only. I like Prado best at second base, and even the Yankees re-sign Headley and stick A-Rod at DH full-time, it’s only a matter of time before someone gets hurt. When that happens, they could simply move Prado into that spot (assuming he isn’t the one who gets hurt!) and call up Refsnyder. I don’t think Prado at short is a realistic shortstop option at this point of his career. Maybe when he was a little younger.

(Patrick Smith/Getty)
(Patrick Smith/Getty)

Arad asks: Could the Yanks take a look at Nick Markakis? O’s just declined his option. He’s been overrated but he’s still a solid 2 win player and could fit nicely in RF.

Markakis, 30, is a solid player who never developed the 30+ homer power many expected back in the day. He hit .276/.342/.386 (106 wRC+) with 14 homers this year and that’s pretty much exactly what he’s hit since his rookie year in 2006. He’s also a very good defensive right fielder with no real platoon split who plays just about every single game — 155+ games every year from 2007-14 except for 2012, when Sabathia broke his thumb with a pitch. Plus he’s very familiar with the AL East, which is always a plus.

Jon Heyman says the Orioles will decline their $17.5M club option for Markakis, pay him a $2M buyout, then slap the $15.3M qualifying offer on him. Even if he accepts, they’d save $200k over simply picking up the option. Heyman says they will try to re-sign him at a lower annual value. Markakis is probably looking at Curtis Granderson money (four years, $60M) at this point, don’t you think? If the Yankees weren’t already tied down with so many outfield contracts — or if they trade Gardner — he’s made a lot of sense. Otherwise I think they need to focus on the infield and completing the roster puzzle.

Adam asks: Why doesn’t the YES Network have a strike zone graphic? (short version of the question)

I’m the wrong guy to ask but I personally would like a little strike zone widget. I would like to see one on the screen permanently like TBS has during the postseason, but just a pop-up graphic to show close pitches would be a nice start. The YES score bug is linked up with PitchFX for velocity, so it seems like it would be easy to add a strike zone graphic as well. They could even dig up a sponsor for it and make some more money. I dunno. Hopefully YES will have one next year but I’m guessing not.

Mailbag: Bullpen, Bernie, Liriano, Ryan, Trades

I’ve got eight questions for you in this week’s mailbag. The best way to send us questions is through the Submit A Tip box in the sidebar. We get a lot of questions each week, so don’t take it personally if yours isn’t answered.

(Presswire)
(Presswire)

Dan asks: These bullpens in the post season are terrible. D-Rob is gonna be a hot commodity this off season, qualifying offer be damned. Why are the Yankees so good at piecing together and developing RPs, and so bad at developing talent elsewhere?

The Yankees don’t have a good reputation for developing talent overall but, once again, they churned out some useful arms this past season. No aces, we’re all still waiting for that next great homegrown Yankees ace, but guys like Shane Greene and Dellin Betances had success this season. Last year it was Adam Warren and Preston Claiborne. The year before that it was David Phelps. Despite their (well-earned) reputation for not developing players, the Yankees do still crank out enough quality arms to fill out a staff and make trades each year.

Anyway, I think the bullpen stuff just boils down to having a lot of options and Joe Girardi‘s ability to put guys in position to success. He’s a little rigid with assigned innings and makes moves fans don’t agree with like every other manager, but I think Girardi is clearly an upper echelon manager at using his bullpen. The Yankees value strikeout-heavy relievers and they hoard these guys in the draft, off waivers, in trades, any way they can get them. Some of them stick and the ones that don’t are quickly replaced.

There is also an element of luck here that we can’t ignore. This is baseball and sometimes things break your way. The Yankees drafted David Robertson as a fastball/slider pitcher, but that summer he learned a curveball from his Cape Cod League pitching coach, and boom. He took off. Dellin Betances going from near-bust starting pitching prospect to elite reliever in 12 months was the best case scenario. 99th percentile stuff. The answer isn’t sexy. They just try to have as many guys with good arms and hand ‘em over to Girardi as necessary.

Travis asks: Could we match up with a trade with Detroit, given their bullpen struggles? Who would the Yankees, realistically, target?

The Tigers will no doubt be looking for bullpen help this winter but they’re a win now team, and win now teams usually don’t give up big league players. They’d prefer to dangle the few prospects they have and that doesn’t really help the Yankees. Prospects are one of the few things in baseball more volatile than relievers. I joked about trading Shawn Kelley and Warren for Nick Castellanos last week but that isn’t going to happen even though Castellanos kinda sucks. I’m sure Detroit would like to get their hands on one or three of the Yankees’ relievers, but I don’t see what they have to offer. Jose Iglesias coming off a lost season? Ewww.

Travis asks: Would the Yankees move Brett Gardner to CIN if it would help net one of Mat Latos, Mike Leake or Johnny Cueto?

I don’t think they would and not just because the team clearly loves Gardner. Trading him for one of those admittedly very good (well, just good in Leake’s case) pitchers doesn’t make sense for a few reasons. One, they’d be subtracting one of their best hitters at a time when they need offense more than anything. Two, all three of those pitchers will be free agents next winter, so they’d only have them for a year. Flipping four years of Gardner for one year of a pitcher doesn’t make sense for the current roster, not when someone like Brandon McCarthy available for nothing more than money. I don’t think trading Gardner is off the table this winter, but he’d have to go in a package for a young bat, not one year of a veteran pitcher.

(Jared Wickerham/Getty)
(Jared Wickerham/Getty)

P.J. asks: With questions about CC Sabathia going forward is Francisco Liriano a viable starting pitcher for the Yankees to target this winter in free agency?

Yes if he doesn’t receive a qualifying offer. I personally wouldn’t give up a first round pick for someone as unpredictable as Liriano. He is relatively young (turns 31 later this month) and even though he didn’t repeat his 2013 success (3.02 ERA and 2.92 FIP in 161 innings) in 2014, he was still pretty good (3.38 ERA and 3.59 FIP in 162.1 innings). Liriano still misses a ton of bats (9.70 K/9 and 25.3 K%) and gets ground balls (54.4%), but he also walks a lot of guys (4.49 BB/9 and 11.7 BB%) and is good for a DL stint or two per year. Plus he’s a lefty and the Yankees could use one of those in the rotation. I would prefer McCarthy but Liriano makes sense as a Plan B. Does two years and $25M get it done?

Greg asks: What case can be made for Brendan Ryan getting the 2015 starting shortstop job?

I can make only one case for starting Ryan at shortstop next year: the Yankees tear it all down and rebuild, but are unable to come up with a young shortstop this winter. That won’t happen. The tear down and rebuild part, I mean. They probably won’t find a young shortstop but at least it’s possible. Tearing it down? Not a chance. Ryan flat out can not hit, we have almost 2,800 plate appearances telling us that (career 69 wRC+), and his defense is merely very good but no longer elite these days. I think there’s a much better chance of the Yankees dropping Ryan from the 40-man roster and sending him to Triple-A — he’d forfeit the rest of his contract by electing free agency rather than accepting the Triple-A assignment, and he ain’t doin’ that — than going into next season with him as Plan A at shortstop. With all due respect, Ryan isn’t someone a winning team plays regularly.

Jimmy asks: As nice as the “Core Four” sounds, and due respect to Derek Jeter et al, but at some point we’re going to have to note that the entire 90’s dynasty paralleled the arc of Bernie Williams‘ career. Bernie was the lynchpin for those championships, no?

I think Jeter was the lynchpin to the late-90s dynasty but yes, Bernie doesn’t get enough respect for the role he played on those teams — cleanup hitter! center fielder! — because his career ended a few years before everyone else’s. My favorite thing about him is how consistent he was from 1997-2002:


Source: FanGraphsBernie Williams

Bernie sat between 4.8 and 5.1 WAR every year for six straight years, his age 28-33 seasons. That’s pretty neat even if WAR is far from perfect.

Michael Kay has justified excluding Williams from the Core Four by saying he wasn’t part of the 2009 World Series team and I can’t do anything more than roll my eyes at that. It totally diminishes not only what Bernie did for the Yankees in the late-90s and early-2000s, but also diminishes what guys like Paul O’Neill and David Cone and Tino Martinez did. Core Four is a catchy nickname and nothing more. Bernie was every bit a part of the core of those teams as Jeter and Mariano Rivera and everyone else. It’s a damn shame he is stuck on the outside looking in despite being such an important part of team history.

Matt asks: How worried are you about field conditions next year when the new York Football Club plays at Yankee stadium?

Worried but not full blown panic. I’d say a five on a scale of one to ten. They didn’t agree to house a football team for (at least) a year without considering the field conditions, especially since they have so much money invested in so many players. Imagine if Jacoby Ellsbury tears up a knee or an ankle stepping in a divot? That would be a nightmare. Grounds crews these days are amazing though, and the fields themselves are state of the art. I’m sure there will be some ugly patches across the 81-game home schedule and faded lines as well, but what can you do. I’ll be paying attention to it next year but I’m sure this is a lot of worrying about nothing.

Anthony asks: It might be a little early but where do you predict some of the bigger prospects to start next season? Aaron Judge, Eric Jagielo, Ian Clarkin, Luis Severino?

I expect Clarkin to start next season with High-A Tampa and the other three to start with Double-A Trenton, with Judge and Severino candidates for a quick promotion to Triple-A Scranton. I think both Gary Sanchez and Tyler Austin will start the year with the RailRiders while Slade Heathcott settles in with Trenton, if he ever gets healthy. The Yankees did not have many prospects at the upper levels this year but that will change in 2015, at least in theory. Not all of these guys will work out, that’s baseball. But if the Yankees can hit on Severino and get a quality bat or two out of the Judge, Sanchez, Jagielo, and Austin group, it would be a huge help.

Mailbag: Jeter, A-Rod, Sabathia, Pirela, Ex-Yanks

Got six questions for you this week, the first week of the offseason. Remember to use the Submit A Tip box in the sidebar to send us anything at anytime, mailbag comments or otherwise.

(Jim Rogash/Getty)
(Jim Rogash/Getty)

Terri asks: What do you think the chances are for Derek Jeter to go into the Hall of Fame as a unanimous choice?

Very small, but better than they would be in 2015 because there will be some turnover in the voting body before Jeter is eligible for induction in five years. Greg Maddux, whose Hall of Fame case was unimpeachable, did not appear on 20 (!) of the 575 ballots this year. Jeter may get a higher percentage of the vote — Tom Seaver still holds the record after appearing on 98.8% of the ballots — than Maddux because he won more titles and was simply more popular, but I’ll continue to bet against a player getting in unanimously until it actually happens. Too many older voters still send in blank ballots in an attempt to make some kind of statement. It’s silly, but that’s life. Don’t worry, Jeter will still get in on the first ballot.

Dan asks: Would it hurt the Yankees brand if Alex Rodriguez, given what we know about his connections with PEDs, broke Babe Ruth’s home run record? Also, is it financially responsible to allow A-Rod to reach the $6 million bonuses from the incentive clauses in his contract that was signed under the pretenses of marketing these achievements from a then “clean” athlete?

On the contrary, I think it will help the team’s #brand. They’re going to make a ton of money if Alex Rodriguez manages to get close to Babe Ruth’s Barry Bonds’ homerun record. People are still going to pay oodles of money to see history and boo the everloving crap out of him. Yeah, the bonuses were signed under the pretense that A-Rod was clean, but CC Sabathia‘s contract was signed under the pretense he would be a 200+ inning workhorse. It didn’t work out, that’s the risk you take when entering into a contract with a player. If the Yankees try to get out of those bonuses, A-Rod and the union will file a grievance and probably win given the contract language. They’re not going to let the team weasel out of that money. It’s a precedent the MLBPA won’t allow to be set.

Daniel asks: Given the new regime entering the MLB offices, how important is it for the Yankees’ financial freedom that this year’s playoff picture includes lower budget teams like Royals, Pirates, and Athletics? Obviously spending money doesn’t win you championships per se but more often than not it puts you in contention and the Wild Card has proven that’s all you need. Will these lower budget teams getting a chance have an impact on the CBA? Will it prevent MLB from considering a salary cap?

A salary cap won’t happen because the union won’t allow it to happen. The luxury tax system is a compromise. Baseball is way too strong financially right now to start putting limits on payroll. The owners would love one, sure, but the MLBPA will fight this tooth and nail. I think they would strike before accepting a salary cap and no one wants a work stoppage. The game is too healthy. Maybe seeing those smaller payroll teams get into the postseason both this year and the last few years (Rays!) will help keep the salary cap conversation at bay, but I don’t think it will have a big impact. The biggest argument against a salary cap is the league’s revenue.

Jack asks: CC’s days of going 200+ innings per year are over. The knee can’t take the pounding, especially over the course of a season. On the other hand, if he is only needed for say 100 innings a year he might be able to play out his contract. What do you think of putting him in the bullpen? It’ll be less strain on the arm (and knee) and will allow him to air it out for each of the one or two innings he pitches, so instead of maxing at say 90 mph he can get back to say maybe 93/94?

(Mike Stobe/Getty)
(Mike Stobe/Getty)

I think it’s worth it to find if Sabathia can still start first. He’ll almost certainly never be an ace again, but maybe he can be what Hiroki Kuroda was this year following knee surgery, even if it’s only for one year. If Sabathia can’t start, either physically or because his performance is terrible, then stick him in the bullpen and see what happens. I don’t think they’re at that point yet. Give him a chance to start following surgery and see where he’s at. We all just might be pleasantly surprised.

Dustin asks: How playable do you think Jose Pirela is at SS? Could the Yanks save a little cash and maybe even slightly upgrade offensively and in terms of defensive flexibility by bringing Pirela off the bench as a super utility guy? That’s assuming they have a rock-solid everyday SS like Hardy.

The Yankees moved Pirela off shortstop permanently following the 2011 season — he’s played only eight games at the position since, all this year with Triple-A Scranton. He’s been a second baseman and left fielder more than anything these last few years, though he’s seen time pretty much everywhere other than pitcher or catcher. Pirela could probably play shortstop the way Yangervis Solarte did earlier this year, a spot start here or there but not everyday. If the Yankees signed J.J. Hardy or whoever and he got hurt, they’d have to play Brendan Ryan at short everyday, not Pirela. He can hit though, and there’s a decent chance he’ll force the team’s hand in Spring Training the way Solarte did this year. His versatility and right-handed bat would be nice to have on the bench.

JPK asks: Using just players that came through the Yankee system, who are no longer Yankees, and were active in MLB this past season, make your best starting lineup…. Mine is Jackson CF, Melky RF, Cano 2B, Soriano DH, Montero 1B, Navarro C, Nunez 3B, R Pena SS, A. Almonte LF… Did I miss anyone?

I’ll do you one better. Here’s an entire roster of former Yankees’ farmhands who played in MLB this season.

Catcher Infielders Outfielders Rotation Bullpen
Dioner Navarro 1B Jesus Montero LF Melky Cabrera RH Phil Hughes RH John Axford
2B Robinson Cano CF Austin Jackson RH Ian Kennedy RH J. Chamberlain
DH SS Ramiro Pena RF Jose Tabata RH Zach McAllister RH Tyler Clippard
Alfonso Soriano 3B E. Nunez LH Vidal Nuno LH Mike Dunn
LH Jose Quintana RH D. Farquhar
Bench RH George Kontos
C Eric Fryer IF Dean Anna RH Mark Melancon
UTIL J. Paredes OF Abe Almonte

The roster would look quite a bit better if I could include players the Yankees drafted but did not sign, specifically Gerrit Cole, Doug Fister, Drew Storen, and Chris Davis. The notable omissions are all pitchers: Hector Noesi, Tommy Kahnle, Phil Coke, and Randy Choate. The Yankees have produced a bunch of decent arms recently but not many bats — Fryer and Anna are really stretching the definition of “coming up through the system.” My lineup one through nine would be similar to JPK’s:

  1. Jackson
  2. Melky
  3. Cano
  4. Soriano
  5. Navarro
  6. Montero
  7. Tabata
  8. Nunez
  9. Rakin’ Ramiro

The pitchers are listed alphabetically but my rotation would be Quintana followed in order by Hughes and Kennedy, with Nuno and McAllister in whatever order in the fourth and fifth spots. Pick ‘em out of a hat. Melancon would close with Clippard and Farquhar setting him up. I don’t really have a long man but whatever. Just spit-balling it, that roster would win what, maybe 70-75 games? It would rely (heavily) on the pitching and Cano driving in Jackson and Melky. That’s pretty much it. Maybe some trademark Yankees Magic™ would get them to 81 wins.

Mailbag: Castro, Russell, Six-Man Rotation, Jeter

Seven questions and six answers this week, the final mailbag of the 2014 regular season. Don’t worry, the mailbag continues in the offseason. This is a year ’round feature. Use the Submit A Tip box in the sidebar to send us anything throughout the week.

Castro. (Jeff Gross/Getty)
Castro. (Jeff Gross/Getty)

Dustin asks: If the Yankees prefer a long-term solution at shortstop to a free agent, what would it take to pry either Starlin Castro or Addison Russell from the Cubs?

Even though there are a ton of quality shortstops set to hit free agency this winter, I think trading for a younger, more long-term solution at the position is something the Yankees should pursue. The Diamondbacks and Cubs have a stockpile of young shortstops but Chicago’s group is better, mostly because they’re more high-ceiling players. I like Chris Owings a lot, but he’s no Castro or Russell. Or even Javier Baez, who’s been awful so far in his MLB career (51 wRC+ and 41.9 K%) and has always had very high bust potential because of his plate indiscipline.

Castro, who is still only 24, rebounded nicely from his down 2013 season to hit .292/.339/.438 (115 wRC+) with 14 homers this year. He’s played in 740 of 778 possible games since making his debut — most of his missed games have come this month due to an ankle sprain — and while he’s not a great defender, he isn’t as bad as his reputation either. Plus he’s under contract through 2019 for a total of $44M. Castro is young, he’s productive, he’s durable, and he’s signed cheaply for another half-decade. He’s someone the Yankees should be very interested in if he’s made available.

Russell is just the prospect, on the other hand. A great prospect, but a prospect nonetheless. He is a riskier of the two shortstops. The price for Russell has already been established, right? Basically a Jeff Samardzija caliber pitcher. It’s worth noting the Cubs balked when the Phillies asked for Russell in Cole Hamels trade talks last month, according to Gordon Wittenmyer. (Hamels’ salary came into play there.) Castro should be similarly expensive. The Yankees aren’t getting these guys with David Phelps and a prospect. Michael Pineda would have to be on the table and you know what? I’m not against that given his shoulder history. I’d prefer Castro to Russell ever so slightly but would be thrilled with either.

nycsportzfan asks: I was wondering if you thought we should trade Shane Greene while his value could be at his greatest this offseason? He could be almost a centerpiece for a mid-rotation guy (Matt Latos, Mike Leake, Tyson Ross, etc.), really.

Mark asks: Would you rather see the Yankees sign a big free agent starter this offseason or acquire a starter in a trade. Some of the Reds’ starters could be interesting targets.

Gonna lump these two together. Greene was very good this season up until his disaster final starter earlier this week. I wouldn’t be opposed to trading him at all but the Yankees can’t afford to give him away either. Their 2015 rotation options are risky and they’ll need the depth. I also don’t think his trade value is high enough to be the centerpiece of a package for a guy like Latos or Ross either. Greene is only one year younger than Latos and two years younger than Ross, remember. We’re not talking about a 22 or 23-year-old here. I’m not sure his trade value is all that high on his own. Definitely not high enough to land a real difference maker.

Cueto. (Jason Miller/Getty)
Cueto. (Jason Miller/Getty)

Four of the Reds’ five starting pitchers are due to be free agents after next season — Latos, Leake, Johnny Cueto, and Alfredo Simon. They do have Homer Bailey signed long-term and Tony Cingrani under team control, but still, losing four starters is tough. Cincinnati is a medium payroll team ($114M in 2014) that already has $70M on the books for just four players in 2016 (Bailey, Joey Votto, Jay Bruce, Brandon Phillips), so re-signing all four of those starters will be impossible. Heck, re-signing just one of Latos or Cueto will be tough. Speculation is they will trade at least one of those two to clear payroll and fill other roster holes this winter and obviously either would make sense for the Yankees. Expect a lot of trade chatter about the Reds’ starters this winter and expect the Bombers to be involved.

Paul asks: Say the Yankees made the playoffs, how scary would be a rotation of Masahiro Tanaka, Pineda, Brandon McCarthy and Hiroki Kuroda/Green be?

Yeah, that rotation would be pretty dynamite in a short series, at least on paper. Who knows what would happen in the actual games. I’d use Kuroda as the fourth starter and put Greene in the bullpen as a multi-inning guy. Joe Girardi would be able to lean heavily on David Robertson, Dellin Betances, and Adam Warren in a short postseason series with built in off-days, so the pitching staff could have been excellent. Too bad the Yankees couldn’t hit at all this year. Thinking about what could have been with this pitching staff is a bummer.

Kevin asks: I have forever been against the idea of a 6-man rotation, however going to next year I don’t think it could make much more sense. CC Sabathia, Pineda, Tanaka and Kuroda (aqssuming return) would all benefit greatly from the extra day for one reason or another. What are your thoughts and do you see the Yankees pursuing this?

There have already been reports indicating the Yankees are considering a six-man rotation for next season as way to give their starters extra rest. Tanaka (elbow), Pineda (shoulder), Phelps (elbow), Sabathia (knee), and Ivan Nova (elbow) all have injury concerns and could benefit from working in a six-man rotation. How much would the extra day of rest help keep them healthy? Who knows. It’s worth noting pitchers across the league this year have actually performed slightly worst with an extra day of rest than on normal rest.

The Yankees would have to use a three-man bench to make a six-man rotation happen — nothing they’ve done in recent years makes me think they would go with a four-man bench and a six-man bullpen — and that’s doable because players like Martin Prado provide some versatility. They’d have to come up with a similarly versatile backup infielder and have a backup catcher who could maybe play a little first base and left field. I don’t love the idea of taking starts away from Tanaka and Pineda — the difference between a five-man rotation and a six-man rotation is about five starts across the 162-game season — but if it helps keep them healthy, it might be the best course of action. I don’t think there’s a clear right answer here. This is a very debatable topic.

(Jim McIsaac/Getty)
(Jim McIsaac/Getty)

Stephen asks: Now that we know how many we’ll have this season, I’m curious what the percentage is for how many of Jeter’s games played were “meaningless games” — those in which the Yankees were already eliminated from postseason contention. I’d bet it’s probably close to 1%, right?

The Yankees were eliminated from postseason contention in Game 157 back in 2008 and in Game 158 this year, so that’s nine meaningless games between those two seasons. Jeter was injured last year when the Yankees were eliminated and didn’t play in any of those meaningless games. He’s played 2,745 total regular season games in his career, so less than 1% have been meaningless — 0.0033% of his games have come with the Yankees mathematically eliminated from postseason contention. That is: crazy.

Update: Reader @Fgerlando points out Jorge Posada played zero meaningless games in his career. He was hurt at the end of the 2008 season and did not play.

Randy asks: Do you think Jeter will get a monument? Do you think he deserves one?

I was thinking about this yesterday and decided against including it in the thoughts post. Right now there are monuments for Babe Ruth, Lou Gehrig, Mickey Mantle, Joe DiMaggio, Miller Huggins, and George Steinbrenner in Monument Park. All of them were dedicated posthumously. If the Yankees decide to add a monument for Jeter after he retires, he’ll be the first person to have one dedicated in his honor while still alive. So, really, this question is asking whether he will be worthy of a monument in 40, 50, 60 something years. My answer is yes. Jeter is the greatest Yankee since Mantle and he was at the core of their most recent dynasty. If he isn’t worthy of a monument, I’m not sure how anyone else would be.

Mailbag: Miller, Instructs, Willingham, Andrus

I’ve got six questions for you this week. Use the Submit A Tip box in the sidebar to send us any questions or comments throughout the week. Only one more mailbag before the end of the regular season, you know.

(Presswire)
(Presswire)

Dave asks: Shouldn’t the Yanks prioritize going after Andrew Miller as a FA? Similar to getting Johnny Damon and Jacoby Ellsbury, to get stronger and make your competition weaker, he’s a lock down lefty which they haven’t had in forever, gets righties out too, strengthens the bullpen from the left side and weakens the O’s?

I don’t put too much stock in the “take him away from your competition” angle. I don’t think that’s a reason to go out and get a player. I see it as a nice fringe benefit, that’s all. Worry about your own roster, not your opponent’s, yadda yadda yadda. Did the Yankees really take Ellsbury away from the Red Sox anyway? It’s not like Boston was going to re-sign him. He was gone no matter what.

Anyway, the 29-year-old Miller has been outstanding this year, pitching to a 1.96 ERA (1.30 FIP) with a 14.93 K/9 (42.9 K%) in 59.2 innings. Like Dave said, he’s been dominating both lefties (.193 wOBA) and righties (.217 wOBA). Miller was very good from 2012-13, pitching to a 3.04 ERA (3.12 FIP) with 12.55 K/9 (32.6 K%), but he’s taken off because he cut his walk rate from 4.69 BB/9 (12.2 BB%) the last two years to 2.41 BB/9 (6.9 BB%) this year. His homer rate (0.30 HR/9 and 5.9 HR/FB%) is flukishly low but he still kept the ball in the park from 2012-13 (0.76 HR/9 and 12.8 HR/FB%).

Miller scrapped his two-seamer this season and has stuck with his straight four-seam fastball, a pitch he can better locate. It seems like the light bulb went on — he realized he can throw his mid-90s heater right down the middle and hitters still can’t hit it. I remember reading a Matt Thornton interview a few years in which he said that’s when his career took off, when he figured out he throw fastballs over the plate and still be effective. Miller also has a devastating slider (that he uses a lot, more than 40% of the time), so he’s a two out-pitch pitcher.

I consider Miller and David Roberson to be No. 1A and 1B among the crop of free agent relievers this coming winter. They’re both elite, though Robertson cut his walk rate in half three years ago. Miller only has the one-year sample. I wouldn’t focus so much on the left-handed aspect either, he can get both lefties and righties out. He’s a one-inning, high-leverage reliever. Simple as that. Given the Boone Logan contract (three years, $16.5M), Miller is probably looking at three years and $8M or $9M annually. (He hasn’t closed and saves do pay.) I think you give him that contract hoping you get the 2014 version but expecting the 2012-13 version. That’s just me. Miller would be a fine addition to any bullpen, including New York’s.

(Presswire)
(Presswire)

Mike asks: Should the Yankees consider Josh Willingham as a 4th OF or is he basically done?

I wouldn’t say he’s done, no. Willingham is 35 but he is also hitting .221/.353/.407 (117 wRC+) with 14 homers this year, including .258/.380/.461 (136 wRC+) against lefties. Looks like there is still some life in that bat. Willingham is not much of an outfielder at this point though, that’s the only real problem. He’s awful defensively needs regular turns at DH to remain in the lineup everyday. I have a pretty high tolerance for bad corner outfield defense but Willingham is Raul Ibanez level bad. I think he’s more of a platoon DH than a fourth outfielder. I wouldn’t say no to him, but he is a limited player.

Jon asks: Masahiro Tanaka pitched in an Instructional League game earlier this week. How does that league work? Who plays in it? Why don’t we hear more about it?

Instructional League in Florida runs from mid-September through October — there are also instructs in the Dominican Republic, though I’m not sure when they run exactly — and it’s basically a mini-camp for lower level prospects, players who are heading to the Arizona Fall League and need to stay sharp, guys who missed time to injury, etc. Top prospects at the upper levels usually don’t go to instructs, so Gary Sanchez probably isn’t there after squatting behind the plate all summer. This is mostly very young players still early in their development.

Instructs are almost like Spring Training. There are drills so players can work on specific skills and they also play intra-squad games every day. They’re very informal. Players can bat out of order to get more plate appearances, innings will simply end if a pitcher is throwing too many pitches, stuff like that. Some teams will release their Instructional League roster each fall but the Yankees don’t. They’re secretive about everything. A mini-camp is the best way to describe it. No one keeps stats or anything (maybe the team does internally, who knows), they’re just working on the basics. It’s exactly what it sounds like, a league for instruction.

Griffin asks: Do you think Elvis Andrus is a realistic trade target for the Yankees?

Realistic in the sense that the Rangers would move him? Absolutely. Realistic in the sense that he would be a good pickup? I don’t think so. Not without Texas eating a big chunk of his contract. Andrus is hitting a weak .264/.317/.334 (79 wRC+) this year after hitting an equally weak .271/.328/.331 (78 wRC+) last year. That’s a 78 wRC+ in his last 1,344 plate appearances at age 24-25 (he just turned 26). He had an 87 wRC+ from 2009-12 and a 95 wRC+ from 2011-12. He’s gone backwards at an age when he should be taking big steps forward.

Offense not included. ( Ed Zurga/Getty)
Offense not included. ( Ed Zurga/Getty)

The Rangers gave Andrus an eight-year contract worth $118M last April and it doesn’t kick in until next season. They’re going to be paying this guy roughly $15M a year every year from 2015-22. He has a 78 wRC+ in his last 1,344 plate appearances. Did I mention that? Yes, Andrus is good with the glove, but his defensive stats have been trending in the wrong direction for several years now. In fact, he’s at -4.3 UZR and -15 DRS this season. So he can’t hit, his defense isn’t as good as it once was, and he’s owed $15M a year for the better part of the next decade. I wanted Andrus as Derek Jeter‘s replacement a few years ago, before his bat went backwards. The blush is off this rose. I’m sure Texas would love to get out from under that contract at this point, but there will be too many good free agent shortstops on the market this winter for the Yankees to stoop this low.

(Aside: I am totally sick of defense first players. Give me hitters all day, everyday.)

Justin asks: If the Yankees could snap their fingers and rid themselves of one of these contracts, which would be the best one to unload, factoring in both $$$ freed up and ease of replacing said player: CC Sabathia, Mark Teixeira, Jacoby Ellsbury, Carlos Beltran, or Brian McCann?

Out of those five guys, I would say Sabathia because there’s a good chance he will give the Yankees absolutely nothing for the remainder of his contract ($48M from 2015-16 plus a $25M vesting option for 2017 that depends on the health of his shoulder). Teixeira and Beltran will be gone in two years and Ellsbury’s still a good player. He’s the lesser of five evils here. McCann has been terrible this year but at least he still plays good defense at a premium position and mashes taters. I love Sabathia. He’s been a great Yankee. But his body has started to break down and that’s not a process you can reverse.

Mike asks: You always hear about NFL contracts being renegotiated for salary cap purposes but never in MLB. Is there a prohibition against this? Why couldn’t the Yankees offer to change the remainder of Tex’s contract to lower the yearly value of the remaining two years but adding an option year for 2017 which would pay the difference from the two remaining years plus a $1 million dollar premium? If the team declined the 2017 option, he would still get full value of contract, plus the premium and then have the option for a FA contract elsewhere. This would give the team some cap flexibility while still honoring the contract.

Sure, this happens in MLB, just not as often because there is no salary cap. Scott Rolen restructured his contract a few years ago to give the Reds more financial wiggle room, for example. (I only remember that because I wrote the MLBTR post.) I suppose the Yankees could restructure Teixeira’s contract but they would have to give him an extra year or two to make it happen. He’s not (and shouldn’t) going to do it out of the kindness of his heart. Also, I think MLB would step in if it was blatant luxury tax circumvention. The Yankees have money though. They can afford to pay Teixeira his big salary these next two years. I don’t think it’s worth keeping him around another year or two beyond that just to save a few million in 2015 and 2016, which might be non-contention years even if they use the savings to add help elsewhere.